The Best Sunscreen for Hawaii You Should Buy

Are you looking for the best Hawaii sunscreen brands for your trip to the islands? This guide from a Hawaii local has the best sunscreen for Hawaii.

woman holding out circular tin of Little Hands Hawaii sunscreen
Photo Courtesy of Little Hands Hawaii

In 2021, Hawaii instituted a ban on chemical sunscreens in order to try to protect the islands’ marine life. But many people may wonder, what’s the alternative? Instead of using chemical sunscreen, visitors and locals alike can use reef safe sunscreen. This article has all of the best reef safe Hawaii sunscreen brands for you to use.

*Note: While this article does talk about the dangers of chemical sunscreen, that doesn’t mean to do away with sunscreen altogether. It is still important to protect your skin from the sun’s UV rays by using sunscreen. We’re simply promoting the use of reef safe sunscreen rather than chemical sunscreen.

Questions About Reef Safe Sunscreen

hands holding Mama Kuleana Hawaii sunscreen
Photo Courtesy of Mama Kuleana

What Is Reef Safe Sunscreen?

This question is a little more complex than it may seem. Different governments have different laws classifying what is and isn’t reef safe sunscreen. According to Hawaii state law, the definition of reef safe sunscreen is sunscreen that does not have oxybenzone or octinoxate.

But oxybenzone and octinoxate aren’t the only harmful substances in reef safe sunscreen. There are loads of other chemicals – including avobenzone, which is very similar to oxybenzone but still legal – that are harmful to marine life and humans. On top of that, there are preservatives called parabens that aren’t great either.

What Are the Differences Between Chemical Sunscreen and Reef Safe Sunscreen?

In addition to all of the chemicals and parabens, there is a shocking difference between how the body actually uses chemical sunscreen compared to reef safe sunscreen.

Chemical sunscreen uses ingredients known as “chemical blockers,” like oxybenzone and octinoxate. These are ingredients that undergo chemical reactions when interacting with the sun’s rays, thereby preventing the UV rays from penetrating your skin. That said, while the UV rays don’t penetrate your skin, the chemical ingredients used in chemical sunscreen do. Due to their small size, these chemicals are small enough to also get absorbed by the skin and into the bloodstream.

Reef safe sunscreen, on the other hand, uses what is known as “physical blockers,” like zinc oxide and titanium dioxide. These compounds create a protective layer of sorts on top of your skin and physically block the sun’s rays. Nothing harmful actually goes into your skin or bloodstream. So rather than your skin absorbing or reflecting the sun’s rays, the reef safe sunscreen does that all on its own!

hand holding tin of lilikoi mamalu sunscreen
Photo Courtesy of Mamalu Sunscreen

Why Should I Care About Using Reef Safe Sunscreen in Hawaii?

There is a ton of research detailing the negative effects of chemical sunscreen on the marine environment. It bleaches coral reefs, disrupts fish endocrine systems, stops the growth of algae, damages the immune systems of sea urchins, and so much more.

On top of that, preliminary research indicates that chemical sunscreen may also have negative effects on humans. This includes decreased fertility rates, increased endometriosis rates, increased breast cancer rates, and decreased testosterone levels.

What Should I Look for to Make Sure that my Sunscreen Is Actually Reef Safe?

Instead of giving you a list of sunscreen ingredients to avoid, it’s actually easier to give you just one thing to look for: a high percentage of non-nano zinc oxide (18-25%). According to the FDA, non-nano zinc oxide is just one of two sunscreen ingredients that is deemed safe and effective.

The other mineral that the FDA deems safe and effective for sunscreen purposes is titanium dioxide. That said, it is important to note that recent research on titanium dioxide says it may be carcinogenic (or cancer-causing).

For that reason, I’d recommend sticking with the non-nano zinc oxide sunscreen options instead. As a matter of fact, all of the Hawaii sunscreen brands on this list opted to use non-nano zinc oxide rather than titanium dioxide.

What Does Non-Nano Zinc Oxide Mean?

We’ve already covered the benefits of using reef safe sunscreen containing non-nano zinc oxide over chemical sunscreen. But what exactly does non-nano zinc oxide mean?

To understand the “non-nano” part of the ingredient, we’ll need a tiny bit of science and math. “Nano” refers to nanometers, an absurdly small unit of measurement. It’s exactly one-billionth of a meter.

When particles can be effectively measured in nanometers, that means that they’re so small that they can get into your skin and bloodstream. We don’t want that. That’s part of what may make chemical sunscreen have a negative effect on humans. So non-nano means that the particles are big enough to not get into your skin and bloodstream.

As for the rest of the ingredient – the “zinc oxide” part – that is a little more self-explanatory if you remember your high school chemistry class. It’s just zinc and oxygen bonded together to create the inorganic compound, ZnO, or zinc oxide!

If you have any other questions, this article about in-depth reef safe sunscreen should help you out.

Questions About the Hawaii Sunscreen Ban

dozens of tins of Mama Kuleana sunscreen
Photo Courtesy of Mama Kuleana

When Does the Hawaii Sunscreen Ban Start?

The Hawaii sunscreen began in January 2021.

Does Hawaii Check or Confiscate Your Sunscreen?

No, it doesn’t. You can technically still bring your own sunscreen from home. The sunscreen ban only applies to what types of sunscreens can be sold in Hawaii. So if you purchase sunscreen outside of Hawaii and bring it to the islands, that doesn’t break the law.

But don’t you want to protect both yourself and Hawaii’s beautiful oceans? After all, it’s an easy switch with lots of positive benefits. So why not add reef safe sunscreen to your Hawaii packing list instead of chemical sunscreen?

What Is Hawaii Approved Sunscreen?

Hawaii approved sunscreen is any sunscreen that doesn’t contain oxybenzone or octinoxate. But, as I mentioned at the start of this article, many large companies have swapped those ingredients out for those that are equally as harmful. Instead consider purchasing some sunscreen from one of the Hawaii sunscreen brands listed below!

The Best Hawaii Sunscreen Brands for You to Use

three sticks of Little Hands Hawaii sunscreen with bright turquoise labels
Photo Courtesy of Little Hands Hawaii

Little Hands Hawaii

If you’re looking for the best sunscreen for Hawaii, you don’t want to miss Little Hands Hawaii. This local company is undoubtedly the most popular Hawaii sunscreen brand – and for good reason.

First of all, Little Hands Hawaii only uses the best quality ingredients, including non-nano zinc oxide, organic coconut oil, and elderberry. And since Little Hands Hawaii thoughtfully sourced each and every ingredient, their products are gentle enough for babies too!

As if that weren’t enough, Little Hands Hawaii’s packing is all plastic free and sustainably sourced.

You can purchase Little Hands Hawaii’s reef safe sunscreen from their website, a variety of retailers throughout Hawaii, and Amazon.

Use the code BORDERS15 on the Little Hands Hawaii website to get 15% off your order!

three tins of Mamalu sunscreen in lilikoi, mint chocolate, and kokee scents
Photo Courtesy of Mamalu Sunscreen

Mamalu Sunscreen

Mamalu Sunscreen is one of the many Hawaii sunscreen brands that is made on the beautiful island of Kauai. Like all of the companies on this list, Mamalu Sunscreen only uses the best ingredients to make their products, including non-nano zinc, macadamia nut oil, and turmeric.

But what makes Mamalu Sunscreen stand out from the pack is the scents! Choose between lilikoi (passion fruit), mint chocolate, or Kokee (mountain/nature) scents.

As an added bonus, all of Mamalu Sunscreen products come in sustainable, recyclable metal tins.

You can purchase Mamalu Sunscreen’s reef safe sunscreen from their website and various retailers on Kauai.

jar of Mama Kuleana sunscreen on rocks near ocean
Photo Courtesy of Mama Kuleana

Mama Kuleana

Mama Kuleana is one of the coolest Hawaii sunscreen brands. This company is always adapting to become more and more sustainable. It’s so clear that their main goal is to take care of the planet.

Part of fulfilling this goal is Mama Kuleana’s products. Their sunscreen is made from ingredients like wild harvested shea butter, organic coconut oil, and non-nano zinc powder.

But one of the coolest and most sustainable parts of Mama Kuleana’s products is actually the packaging. Their proprietary, wood-based “Bio Jars” are as eco-friendly as it gets.

You can purchase Mama Kuleana Sunscreen from their website and a variety of retailers across the U.S.

young girl at the beach holding an Ao Organics Hawaii sunscreen stick
Photo Courtesy of Ao Organics Hawaii

Ao Organics Hawaii

Ao Organics Hawaii is primarily known for their skincare products. They sell everything from facial cleansers to moisturizers to hydration serums. But of course, we’re here to talk about their reef safe Hawaii sunblock.

Non-nano zinc oxide, red raspberry seed oil, and vitamin E oil are just a few of the great ingredients in Ao Organics Hawaii’s reef safe sunscreen. It also comes in both non-tinted and tinted versions.

You can purchase Ao Organics Hawaii’s reef safe sunscreen from their website and a variety of retailers throughout the U.S.

Hand holding a tin of Raw Love Hawaii sunscreen at the beach
Photo Courtesy of Raw Love Sunscreen

Raw Love Sunscreen

Jenna Davis, the owner of Raw Love Sunscreen, spent basically all of her time in the ocean as a SNUBA instructor, PADI dive master, and marine biology enthusiast. But none of the usual chemical sunscreens worked for her. So in 2015 on Maui, she decided to create Raw Love Sunscreen.

With 22.5% non-nano zinc oxide, jojoba oil, coconut oil, and more, Raw Love Sunscreen only uses the best ingredients. Simply put, it’s some of the best sunscreen for Hawaii.

You can purchase Raw Love Sunscreen’s reef safe sunscreen from their website, a variety of retailers across the U.S. and the Caribbean, and Amazon.

Use the code BORDERS10 on the Raw Love Sunscreen website to get 10% off your order!

jar of sol remedies with banana trees in the background
Photo Courtesy of Sol Remedies

Sol Remedies

Sol Remedies is actually a plant medicine company owned by Kelsy Burch. But in addition to all of her teas and tinctures, she also sells reef safe sunscreen for Hawaii!

Sol Remedies’ reef safe sunscreen uses only the highest quality organic ingredients, including red raspberry seed oil, aloe vera, and non-nano zinc. If you absolutely love this product, you can even sign up for a monthly subscription.

You can purchase Sol Remedies’ Hawaii reef safe sunscreen from their website.

Use the code SOLREM on the Sol Remedies website to get 10% off your order.

tube of Kokua Sun Care sunscreen on the beach
Photo Courtesy of Kokua Sun Care

Kokua Sun Care

Kokua Sun Care is another great Hawaii sunscreen brand. Their products contain the highest percentage of non-nano zinc (25%) on the market, which means it protects your skin from more UV rays than sunscreens with a lower percentage of non-nano zinc.

On top of that, Kokua Sun Care’s products are very water-resistant! That means if you go for a swim, your reef safe sunscreen won’t just wash off.

You can purchase Kokua Sun Care’s reef safe sunscreen from their website, some Hawaii Whole Foods locations, or Amazon.

woman at beach in leafy hat holding Hawaii Peeps sunscreen
Photo Courtesy of Hawaii Peeps

Hawaii Peeps

Like many of the Hawaii sunscreen brands on this list, Hawaii Peeps uses local, natural, organic ingredients to make all of its products, including its reef safe sunscreen. And, of course, it contains the all-important non-nano zinc oxide.

You can purchase Hawaii Peeps’ reef safe sunscreen from their website and a variety of Hawaii retailers.

Are there any other Hawaii sunscreen brands that I should mention? Let me know in the comments below!

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